Loudon County officials and school systems are taking proactive steps to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,400 cases in the United States have been reported, with 39 in Tennessee as of Monday. Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency Thursday to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Tennessee.
The move will allow federal emergency funds to flow into the state to help mitigate and respond to the virus.
“We will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound, but we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health’s best interest,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said in a statement Thursday. “We will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and keep in consultation with Gov. Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our website will remain online and meetings will continue to be streamed and televised. The people of Tennessee will still have access to the work they have elected us to do. We will continue to take additional action as needed.”
Both school systems will be closed through April 3 per request of the governor on Monday.
“We have taken advice of the governor and we are extending our school closure actually through April 3,” Michael Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said. “I believe he had urged us to close through at least March 31, which is the middle of the week, so we went ahead and extended the closure to that Friday.”
The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and has infected thousands across the globe within months.
Although specialists with Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have not yet found an absolute treatment, they believe the immediate risk for the virus is low.
World Health Organization officials suggest standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing for at least 20 seconds, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
All Lenoir City and Loudon County schools were deep cleaned and sanitized over spring break and will help prevent the spreading of germs and bacteria.
“We contract out our cleaning so they go from school to school, so what we’ve asked our contractor to do is similar to when we closed a month or so ago for the flu,” Garren said. “... Our cleaning contractor did an extra deep clean on the schools, and then they went from school to school and had bought some sanitizing machines that basically fog out a disinfectant that touches all the surfaces and kills all the germs on the surfaces. It takes a little time to do that, so luckily, spring break fell at a good time for us to be able to do that, and we aren’t really seeing any elevated sickness at this point.”
The CDC and WHO are requesting all individuals who have traveled outside the country to self-quarantine and immediately notify a medical professional.
In the event that a student comes down with the virus and is quarantined, the schools will not count the number of days missed against them.
“If anything happens like that, then we would deal with it, but I would say if we had a student or a staff member or someone that came down with the coronavirus, then obviously, they would be out of school until the department of health gave them the OK to come back, which I think is probably 14 days at this point,” Garren said. “We would work out some type of alternate method that those kids were able to receive some instruction while they were out of school long-term.”
Lenoir City’s Family Resource Center will remain open during the break.
“We are going to have our Family Resource Center that will stay open to be there to provide access to any resources that parents may have, and we’re going to send out some information about what number to call or who to email if they need help beyond food,” Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said. “If they need access to medical services or whatever it is they come up with, we have volunteers, we have a lot of churches and a lot of community support agencies that have said, ‘We’re here, just let us know how we can help.’ Our Family Resource Center will then be the clearinghouse for all those requests that come in.”
Teachers and students will be required to conduct classes and assignments online in the meantime.
“With our online opportunities, we’re asking our teachers to provide those resources to students and to get as much as learning via online pushed out to our students as much as they possibly can,” Barker said. “This is fluid. We were upstairs meeting just talking about a one-week scenario when the governor came out with this additional information, but we knew this was a high possibility. We were doing a short-term plan and a long-term plan, so we just scratched our short-term plan and had to into long-term planning.”
“What we’re looking at in the short term, since we never got our students back in the building, we’re going to have our teachers provide our parents some resources they can utilize online,” Garren added. “It won’t be mandated instruction, but it will be more to just keep the kids on track and fresh in what they’re doing. If the closure extends past (April 3), then we’ll have a plan in place to utilize online learning as well.”
Officials are still awaiting to receive information on how missed days will be made up.
“The state still hasn’t provided guidance on those things, but we will still have to apply for waivers,” Garren said. “They haven’t said if waivers have been approved or not, so we’ll just have to wait until they send out more guidance.”
Both school systems will offer free food pickup services to various locations within the county, as well as offer childcare via Boys and Girls Club of Loudon County.
Free grab-and-go meals will be available noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at Highland Park Elementary, Greenback, Philadelphia Elementary and Loudon High schools. Lenoir City Schools delivered meals to certain areas on Tuesday.
Courts suspend casesThe Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order Friday to suspend court hearings and processions through March 31.
“It’s going to impact our courts here in Loudon County drastically here for a temporary basis,” Steve Harrelson, county circuit court clerk, said. “I think we’re all being affected in some sort or fashion by the coronavirus. According to the state supreme court handing down the order to suspend most court proceedings until the end of the month, we’re just having to abide by that like other court systems are.”
All in-person hearings and processions at the state and local levels include municipal, juvenile, general sessions, trial and appellate courts. However, courts will remain open for other business.
“As far as our courts, we’re still open for business, but as far as court proceedings, it’s going to pretty much be any type of emergency, a petition that needs to be heard quickly,” Harrelson said. “Any regular proceedings that have already been set for our courts have been reset by our clerks and moved on to April to have those cases heard after this time has passed.”